May 26 Day 1 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Definitely took my chances on finding a campsite in Shenandoah National Park on Memorial Day Weekend!  Hoped coming down on Thursday before the holiday weekend was early enough.  Otherwise, it was going to be a long day trip with lots of goodies in the car!

The best possible outcome would be a campsite at Lewis or Loft. Pulling through the entrance gate at Swift Run Gap, the sign stated that ALL campgrounds were open.  A sigh of relief escaped me, but I was skeptical.  The ranger at the gate assured me the campground would have radioed down if there were no more spots.   Decided to head north to Lewis first.  This was my first choice as it is a smaller, tents only, campground.  Well, after circling twice and finding nothing, confidence waned a bit.  I had a choice to make:  south to Loft (20 miles) or north to Big Meadows (5 miles)?  Yep, I went for Big Meadows figuring if there wasn’t a spot, then at least I could keep heading north … check at Matthews Arm…and if I was denied there as well, then I would just drive on out of the park and head home.

Not to worry! Big Meadows had ONE spot left!  Not a great spot, but A spot.  I’ll take it! Ummm…just a side note, not a complaint, full price should not be charged for this spot.  It was challenging finding a flat place to pitch my backpacker tent without moving the picnic table and it is just below where all the cars park…which means you get light every time someone drives by at night!

After getting the tent pitched on a relatively flat area, I headed down to an overlook to send a text to Little Caesar, letting her know where to find me should there be an emergency.  Saw my first bear at the overlook! And a cluster of stupid people…yay!

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God, I’m so hungry…*nom, nom, nom*

Back at the campground families were gathering, fires being lit, and music was playing loudly. *Sigh*  I spread out the maps and finally decided we would finish off a micro-section of the AT I needed tomorrow, Pinnacle Picnic Grounds to Mary’s Rock.  It would have to be an out and back hike.

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Sidekick Pauli takes her watchdog responsibilities very seriously!

I raised my head to look around.  Hmmm, as long I as didn’t look towards those parked cars, it was kinda nice.  Music wafted up into my campsite,

“But it was only fantasy.
The wall was too high,
As you can see.
No matter how he tried,
He could not break free.”

Hike on.

 

Shenandoah NP – Dickey Ridge Trail (10 miles)

Quick before it starts raining again, let’s go hiking!  I was all set to meet my hiking gals at the north end of the Dickey Ridge Trail (just outside of Shenandoah NP).  Arriving a bit early, I busied myself with pulling on my boots, putting stuff in my pack, then leaned back in my seat to wait. BearSpray and Lola had pulled up behind me and parked. I happened to look up and “Oh, A BEAR!!!”  I waved frantically at BearSpray hoping she see the bear too! She only caught the tail end of it as it lumbered into the woods.  😦

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Welcome to the park!

WELL, I have to tell you that got my hopes up very, very high for seeing another bear on our hike!

When the full crew had arrived we shuttled to the south end of the trail at Compton Gap.  It was colder and windier than some of us had anticipated…fur lined gloves anyone?

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The badass Fashionista! and that little crocheted knapsack…adorbs!

So off we went into the woods, following a fire road to the beginning of the Dickey Ridge Trail!

I was hoping for wildflowers…and a view or two.  Turns out the first mile was just trail and woods, a few common purple flowers, and wind.  But so beautiful! The green in the forest was so fresh, and the blue of the sky was sublime.  I kept optimistic!  Spring had come late to my neck of the woods in Maryland, so I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t see much spring in the mountains.  But still, it’s Mid May!!!

I was rewarded intermittently.  Walk for awhile, then ooooo ahhhhhh, click click with the camera phone, move on!

 

Coming down into Low Gap, another trail crossed ours.  There was no sign post, and we stopped for a minute wondering whether there might be a view if we took the trail to the left.   We opted to move forward on the Dickey Ridge crossing Skyline Drive and up the next hill.  I am still thinking about that trail to the left, though.  I feel like someone had mentioned that trail to me before…but it’s gone now.  Note to self to go back and explore later!

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S.I. Buttercup on her way down into Low Gap

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BearSpray keeps watch, while Lola checks the map 🙂

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Up the hill after Low Gap

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Smirk of Satisfaction after making to the top!

The wind blew us openings in the trees now and then allowing us to view the valley below us.  Beautiful! A winter hike would afford some amazing vistas from this trail!

After several miles, we were wondering whether we would get an open view at all.  After passing the Snead Farm Loop trail, there was a side trail that went steeply up.  It looked promising so Buttercup and I made our way up and…nothing.  Well, not nothing.  We saw this building.  Later I found out this was an FAA site (from the map).

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FAA site on Dickey Hill

Buttercup headed back down, then so did I …but then started yelling down to her “to the right, to the right!!!!!! Buttercup, to the right!” Yessssss! A payoff after walking through the enchanted green forest!

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Looking down on BearSpray from our perch above! Lunch spot!

We were enraptured.  Buttercup and I sat up on the hill, withstanding the cold wind while we ate our lunch, completely mesmerized with the view.  BearSpray eventually came up to join us from below and was equally blown away (with wind and view)!

This spot is only about a mile and a half south of the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, so very doable! One does need to climb up the hill, but seriously, worth it.

When we had gotten so cold we couldn’t stand it any longer we got back to trekking down the trail. Next stop the visitor center, then down the hill to our cars.

The last mile or so was surprisingly different and wonderful!

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The trail follows a gurgling stream (especially vocal after the rain we’ve had)…happy home for turtles.

The birds were singing, families were out exploring, and there was a feeling of absolute contentment along this stretch.  I felt I was being replenished after going up and down all those hills. 🙂

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The end of a wonderful trek in Shenandoah NP!

Sadly, no more bear sightings on today’s hike…but there is always next time! Hike on! 🙂

 

Not Quite Spring, Not Quite Winter! A Stroll in Shenandoah NP

Cruising along Skyline Drive it occurred to me that maybe this hike wasn’t going to be the hike I had conjured up in my mind yesterday.  At that time, I sat on the edge of my bed, maps spread out around me and Sidekick Pauli sprawled  beside me catching rays from the afternoon sun.

Now I found myself facing mountains that still showed vestiges of winter.  I  pulled over no less than three times along the drive just to look, gaze in wonderment, lost in the beauty of Shenandoah.  I decided we would hike where the snow still lingered.

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I want to go there! Right there, on top of that snowy mountain!

I had been headed to Elkwallow Wayside, but stopped short when I got to Overall Run Falls trail head.  Yes!  We ARE STOPPING RIGHT HERE!!!  The trees were all sporting a fresh layer of rime and the trail was perfect with about an inch and a half of dry snow.  Oh, it was gorgeous! Like *gasp* gorgeous!

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Not the best pic…but the only good pic of the rime on the trees!

I took a look at the map and started down the AT to Elkwallow, I would decide whether to backtrack or loop once I got there.  Sidekick Pauli was hiking with me today and is still sporting a pretty good scar down her neck…so it just depended on how she was doing when we got to Elkwallow.

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Oh boy! Into the woods!

The AT to Elkwallow Wayside is a fairly moderate hike with a view that was nice!  Sidekick Pauli scrambled up the rocks and stared into the distance with satisfaction.  Oh, she was definitely happy to be back on the trail! This was our only overlook, although, there were nice forest views along the way.  We passed over Skyline Drive on the AT, then headed slightly up before passing the PATC Range View cabin and descending to Elkwallow Wayside.

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At Elkwallow, we took a detour down to the picnic area…for a pit stop.  While I was, um, otherwise engaged a family had driven up to also use the bathroom. Apparently, this was the only bathroom open in the area.  When Sidekick Pauli and I exited the bathroom they just lost it.  They were gabbing away in a language not understood by me.  They were simply in fits!!  I didn’t get it, what the heck, haven’t they seen something like this before???  I heard their laughter and felt their pointing until we disappeared into the woods.  Haha! Glad I could add something to their Shenandoah memory!! 😀

Sidekick Pauli was loving it!  I decided to loop down to Matthews Arm campground, then climb back up to the AT via the Traces & Tuscarora Overall Run Trails.  The weather had warmed a bit and there was no snow on the Elkwallow Trail down to the campground.  A nice picnic on a damp log awaited us!  Sidekick Pauli gobbled down several of Queen V’s home made doggie treats!!  I made do with a PB&J.  🙂

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I didn’t make it … but I didn’t destroy it either. I enjoyed the oddity of it as I made my way down the Elkwallow Trail.

The birds were rocking out while we sat there in the middle of the otherwise quiet woods.  Lovely to listen to but my butt was getting wet…time to move!

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YAY! we don’t have to rock hop across the creek. 🙂 I think Sidekick Pauli is disappointed…

Soon after crossing the bridge we reached Matthews Arm campground.  We found the Traces Trail after crossing the parking lot.  This trail starts to climb, and the climb goes on, and on.  Maybe it was because I left this piece of trail for last…but man, oh man,  that climb!  Between 800 and 1000 feet!  To say I was happy to reach the snow line would be an understatement! Whew!!

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Ahhh, yes! Finally! Jees…why did that hill feel so long? Oh, 800 feet of slippy, slippy…got it!

I reached the car and began getting ready for the drive home.  Took off the layers, traded out the hiking boots for sandals, did a few not helpful stretches, grabbed the cheezits…

While storing my bag, boots, and clothes in the back of the car, a ranger pulled up.  “Hey, just wanted to let you know there is some weather coming in overnight so we are going to be closing Skyline Drive.”

No problem, ranger! We are ready to go!  Hike on!

Fogged in at Tentsite 43 with Sidekick Pauli (Day 1 – Friday 9/25/2015)

Tentsite 43 – Big Meadows, Shenandoah NP

I had the site reserved well in advance.  This was planned to be an outing with my nieces “No Bend Barbie” and “Jedi”, but No Bend is finishing up her Master’s in Geology and was way too deep in research to come…so we postponed until next May.

So I figured I would take Sidekick Pauli!  My first solo camping trip and a long time since Pauli has been on an overnight with me.  This would be fun!  We could chill out at the campsite, enjoying the crisp autumn air, watching the leaves fall, and take an occasional hike.  Hey, I even bought a new camp chair for the occasion at the REI sale a few weeks ago!

As our weekend approached I got nervous…too many nice weekends in a row…oh, the probability for a rainy weekend…

Right on cue, the forecast said occasional showers, then rain at 6 PM on Friday night.  Okay, okay, I will get there early and set up the tent.  We can get a hike in  before it starts raining…

Cruising up to Sperryville, Virginia, I glanced at the wall of mountains before me shrouded in white…uh oh…

Well, I will just drive on up to the park entrance and see what is happening.  As my car climbed up, the fog rolled in, and soon I was moving at about 20 mph, hands gripping the wheel, as shapes swirled in and out of the fog in front of me.  Hmmm, It’s not raining…maybe we just need to gain a little altitude, you know, to get above the fog bank.  So I flashed my pass at the gate and turned south on Skyline Drive headed for Big Meadows (still at 20 mph, but now with the addition of the hazards blinking merrily to the sorry souls who dared hug my bumper).

Turning into Big Meadows, I was mollified somewhat.  The fog had lifted a bit and my optimism for an adventure had returned!  Tentsite 43 let’s go!

Great site by the way.  Way back in the woods.  There is a picnic table, bear box and tent pad.  There were also a few little trails behind the site.  These trails made walking Sidekick Pauli late at night very easy!

After setting up the tent, We set out for Lewis Spring Falls.  This trail is a 3.3 mile loop which I was able to reach by walking from my site (a nice plus!).  The fog was again falling through the trees which made my traverse along the Appalachian Trail magical.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

The trail followed the AT south past the lodge, then a right turn on the fire road, passing an exhausted looking family unit. “Hey, how are you guys?” I cheerfully greeted them…Dad says, “We’re great!”…Mom says, “Kill me now…”  The teenagers were happy though!  I left them to their resting spot and headed on to the falls.

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

Whoa…lots of switchbacks!!! It sprinkled a bit, but I had dropped below the fog and could now see distant peaks.  Reaching the top of the falls, everything was wet and the rocks were slippery.  I guess to actually see the falls I would need to descend a little more…but knowing my propensity for taking a tumble and that at the moment I was hiking sans hiking poles (and with a dog)…I decided not to go any further!  I didn’t feel even the least bit sad about that decision either.  Some people just love waterfalls, I am not one of those people.  I like them, they are pretty, but I don’t have to see them in person…unless of course we are talking about Niagra…

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

I wondered why everyone was going back up the same switchbacks they came down…then I figured it out.  When you loop, the trail gets pretty rocky.  Holy crap! I hadn’t bargained on this for my easy, afternoon, 3.3 mile hike!! Careful, whew! I didn’t slide and I didn’t fall!!

Back at the site, I proceeded to make dinner.  As soon as I had finished cleaning up and putting things away, then rain started in earnest.  It was 6 pm.

Happiness is a warm puppy!

Happiness is a warm puppy!

We didn’t come out of the tent until after dark so Sidekick Pauli could have a little walk into the woods, so to speak.  Then we were in for good! Into the fog…hike on!

Big Meadows Never Disappoints!

Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park, is a place that is as much spiritual as it is physical.  From a picture or a drive by in the car it may just look like another big field.  It is so much more.

Big Meadows

Big Meadows

We set off Friday morning with the dogs to wander around this area before the throng of weekenders descended.

It is probably best to forgo a heavy regimented hiking plan in this area.  There is no map for the meadow, and we usually just kind of wander around, feet following our “oh!” and “ahhh!” moments.  This doesn’t mean there are not any trails.  There are MANY trails, all made by deer as they criss-cross the meadow in what seems a haphazard, confusing fashion. Once on a trail and fully immersed in the meadow it begins to make sense as our feet find our own crooked, nonsensical route to happiness. 🙂

Since the dogs were with us today and we wanted to avoid the ticks, if possible, we walked down the road to Rapidan to the trail head for Stony Mountain trail, then back.  We think it was about 4.5 – 5 miles in total.

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Taking a road like this one is deceptive because even though it seems flat, it is descending.  On a previous hike, we walked up this road from Rapidan, Hoover’s camp…and it was six miles of not so fun!  😉

Today, however, with a bit of fog rolling over the trail from time to time, was quite pleasant.

Walking down the road to Rapidan

Walking down the road to Rapidan

The road has some hairpin turns! The trail head for Stony Mountain trail is located just off of the first big hairpin turn.  This was our turn around point.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

On the way back up I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the road, having drifted off into la-la land.  All of the sudden, I was looking down on a rattlesnake! Both Sidekick Pauli and myself jumped, then skittered over to the other side of the road, while I was yelling “Holy Crap-a rattlesnake”!!  Once a safe distance away, I asked aloud, really more to myself, “Why no rattle? Why did he not warn us?”  then as I took another look figured out he was probably dead.  I wasn’t going to prod him to check it out, but I was pretty sure. I snapped a picture and moved on.

Looking at the picture later, I confirmed that he had to be dead.  Still…what a shocker!  I kept to the middle of the road after that!!! 🙂

The best reason, in my opinion, to visit Shenandoah right now in the middle of hot, hot summer are the wild flowers and the fungi! These made climbing back up the road not so bad.  We were also lucky to have that rolling fog which kept us cool throughout our hike.

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

The fog greeted us as we left the woods and made our way back across the meadow.

An everchanging landscape…brightly sunny to dramatically foggy.

In the meadow, hike on!

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows

 

Shenandoah NP – Snead Farm Trail

The day after I got back home from my section hike in Pennsylvania, I honestly felt like sleeping all day.  A late to bed on Friday night after hiking 18 miles,  then early rise to drive four hours in the rain back home left me a bit ragged out!

However, Little Caesar (my partner, not the pizza), did not have to do much convincing to get me in the car for a trip to Shenandoah NP.  We had no intention of doing any serious hiking,  but we have an annual pass and felt even a short visit would be a nice way to reconnect after my week away.  Well, I thought that…it’s totally possible that she just wanted to get out of town and away from our pack of animals for a few hours. 🙂
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After reaching the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in the north district, we walked across Skyline Drive to pick up the Dickey Ridge trail to Snead Farm. image

Oh, were my feet happy! I deserved this soft, soft, cushy, like a dream, trail after my week of communing with those rock strewn pathways of Pennsylvania! Beautiful, woodsy trail until you reach the fire road.

We swung left on the fire road to continue to Snead Farm. Wildflowers lined both sides of the road making our stroll more pleasant.
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This is a short three mile hike and seemed to be popular with families. I love seeing Mom’s and Dad’s sharing and teaching their kids about the outdoors. 🙂 Takes me back to when I took my son out on hikes. 🙂 🙂
Anyway, a very adorable family came down the road as we returned.
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One of the younger children had a camera and I asked of what he had been taking a picture. He replied with all the seriousness of a professional, “I am capturing the wilderness. ” 🙂

Keep clicking Kiddo and Hike On!

AT – VA US522 Chester Gap to Jim&Molly Denton Shelter (and back)

Cabin fever, the very quickly approaching Spring semester, and a goal to hike half of the AT through Maryland in one day this summer had me flying down 340 headed for Front Royal, Virginia and the trail head at US522.

I left my house in the dark, hoping to step on the trail at sunrise…I was using this hike to set a baseline for training for my “Half MD” goal this summer.  The shorter winter days meant it might be starting to get dark at 4 PM.  Since I was hiking alone I really didn’t care to be hiking back to my car in the dark!

As it turned out I started hiking at 8 AM.  It was already past dawn, but it was still not completely light outside.  I love to be in the woods in the early morning.  Everything is so quiet, then the birds wake up and chatter at you up and down the trail.

Stepping on the trail just after dawn.

Stepping on the trail just after dawn.

The trail up the mountain sidled up against the National Zoological Park Conservation and Research Center.  Once at the top, the trail pulls away from the Park and cruises nicely along the edge of the mountain before descending to cross a gravel road that headed up into a neighborhood of mountain houses, some of which were quite large!

Stream crossing! Luckily the ice had melted on the rocks...although I did have my spikes in tow!

Not a great pic…but a stream crossing! Luckily the ice had melted on the rocks…although I did have my spikes in tow!

The elevation map made the climb look daunting with a climb of 1000 feet in the first two miles, but it didn’t really seem to register with me on this early morning.  What I did think about, on my way up, was how this morning felt like freedom.  It really did. It had all the promise of the first warm day of spring…adventure without a time limit!  I was just out for a walk, just to see how far I could go.  I was loving it!

Winter view south back to Shenandoah National Park.

Winter view south back to Shenandoah National Park.

After the road crossing, I found a nice log to sit on and take a break.  The temps were rising, but the sun had yet to make to this side of the mountain.  My log seat was quickly freezing my back side, so a quick break it was! Headed on to the shelter for a longer break!

Lunch at the shelter had revived me! It was now 11:45am and I had a choice to make…walk another mile down hill to VA638 or turn around now and walk the 5 miles back to my car.  One more mile downhill would have meant one more mile uphill and a total mileage of 12 miles for today…I was so close to doing it!  But I decided to turn south after leaving the shelter …towards my car…shoot for the 10 miles …take time to enjoy the walk!

Walking back through the snowy woods.

Walking back through the snowy woods.

I had forgotten how good it feels to hike alone.  This hike just left me with such a great feeling of … jees, I cannot describe it…just an amazing amount of control over my life and a great sense of freedom!  Loved it!

Hike on…sometimes with others and sometimes by yourself…hike on!

AT – VA Compton Gap to US 522 with the Trail Dames

I will remember this day as hiking through the sky with Dames, then descending into the valley with Angels.

Before all of this, however, was donuts.  Tenacious D was driving and I had hitched a ride to the trail head since my car is no longer to be trusted on long trips.  I felt very grateful to have a ride down to Virginia for this section hike and stopped at Dunkin Donuts on my way to meet Tenacious D for coffee and donuts as a token of appreciation for the ride.

Wow, it was raining. and cold. and windy.  Glad I put gloves and hat in the back pack before I left!

We were the last to arrive at the trail head…Tenacious D says being a bus driver for so many years makes her just drive slow all the time!  I didn’t mind, we weren’t more than 3 – 4 minutes late, and the drive had been lovely.  We pulled over and rolled down the window as Dirigo (the hike leader today) approached. She asked “Can you all help shuttle?” “Sure!”  Another Dame jumped in and away we went up into Shenandoah National Park.

We met up with everyone at Compton Gap trail head, about 10 miles into the park.  Donning our layers, rain jackets, hats, gloves, and grabbing our hiking poles we set off into the foggy woods.  Pretty easy walking, although it began to rain making me wish I hadn’t left my big red poncho back in my car before riding down with Tenacious D.  Oh well, my rain jacket, plus layers did a fine job anyway!

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Tenacious D enjoying the trail!

The forest was magical with the heavy fog.  Lines between heaven and earth were smudged giving everything a soft ethereal glow.  It felt like we were part of the sky.  Then my eye would catch a tree with its brilliantly colored leaves in the forest reminding me that the sky had descended on the mountain, we had not risen to the sky.

We reached Possum’s Rest, which on a clear day has a beautiful view, without much trouble.  Today, all one could see was the fog.  Coming down from Possum’s Rest was a little tricky!  We were climbing down from the ridge and it was a sharp decline, even with the switchbacks, littered with wet leaves and rocks.  It was slow going…but no one fell, no one slipped!

Just before reaching the Tom Floyd Wayside, we heard barking.  Lake Front Royal is a neighborhood which backs up to the AT, so the dog was probably over there.  Happy to get out of the rain we sat down for lunch at the shelter.  A PB&J and half a bag of cheezits later I was feeling quite content.  I stretched out my legs and sat there looking out into the mist.

Tom Floyd Wayside

Tom Floyd Wayside

There is was…that barking again…louder this time.  We discussed where the dog could be, then brushed it aside as we packed up and left the shelter.  Headed downhill, then all of the sudden there it was, a small older beagle, lost, cold, wet, shivering, and very scared.  She came right up to me.  It was clear she needed help.  At first we got her to follow us, but soon realized she needed to be carried as her paws were rubbed raw.  I carried her for awhile,

then Python cleared out her backpack and together we fit her inside.  She loved that! So cozy!  And that is how Python packed her out.  As we continued towards Rt. 522 we passed directly by a few houses in Lake Front Royal.  Python asked a guy out on his deck if he knew anyone who had lost a beagle.  He didn’t but turned to get his wife.  Turns out the wife works in a vet clinic and offered to take the dog so they could follow up on the license number and scan for a microchip.

So you see, the Dames had become Angels arriving at just the right time and place for this lucky little pup.  I am ever so happy she spent the night inside, safe and warm.

A Journey Taken

A Journey Taken

Hike on.

On the Trail with Sidekick Pauli and Little Caesar! June 21-22, 2014

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Last weekend was the FIRST weekend of “ahhhhhhh” that I have had since we started getting the house ready to sell.  Well, the house is now on the market! It went on the market on June 17, our anniversary…it wasn’t planned that way, but is so symbolic as remodeling the house just about killed our […]

AT – VA A Great View on North Marshall Mountain in SNP

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Early last Thursday morning, someone hit my car and luckily left a note.  What started as an “oh crap” day quickly turned into a “oh yes, I get a nice rental car, and I don’t have to pay for it” day!  Right then and there, I decided that it was high time for a road […]